Why I Am an End Of Life Doula for Human and Non-Human Animals Alike

I came across a rather interesting project by Aubrey Wade, who is a British photographer working out of Berlin. The non-belief project is in the early stages, and I contacted Aubrey about participating in the project at some level – even though as I am based in Australia it may not be possible for me to be included. Aubrey wrote back to me, and asked a few questions that prompted and elicited a much deeper response than I had realised I had in me, and I am most grateful to Aubrey for the consideration of my own perspective that his questions gave rise to.

I do not generally publically share details of communication from a personal perspective, but as I myself attained a richer self-understanding from Aubrey’s mission statement and parameters for the project, I am sharing my response here in this post.

Aubrey wrote (in part) to me: The project will take shape in two primary ways:

  • A series of portraits combined with short interviews that reflects the variety of non-religious beliefs held by individuals across different countries.
  • An in-depth photo essay. I am interested in ritual behaviours connected with people’s non-religious beliefs, in particular when experiencing significant life moments, either positive or challenging (from celebrating to grieving), as well as transitions from one stage of life to another. I anticipate that at these times people’s beliefs, perspectives and worldviews come clearly into focus, are often embodied, and allow for a strong visual representation. I am also interested in exploring the role of ‘sacred’ or ‘spiritual’ objects, places and relationships in people’s non-religious beliefs and lives.

My response, which encapsulates my underlying world-views in ways even I had not fully realised is as follows (I have edited out specific details of my geographic location, and the email content is in blue to denote where the communication ends and the blog post proper recommences):

Good morning Aubrey,

I am happy to be a part of either spoken or visual aspects of your project, thank you! As a hard 7 atheist on the Dawkins scale I am intrigued by your project’s parameters.

My motivations: I am a rationalist and atheist, and one of the most satisfying aspects of my academic work is that I am able to model critical thinking to students in lectures and in tutorials – however the absence of critical capacity as an inherent part of religious and faith-based ‘belief’ is one of the most frustrating aspects of my teaching practice. As a former somatic psychotherapist and life-long storykeeper I am also always interested in people’s stories, because story/ies tells me about how people relate to the world, and who or what they value most. Relationships are therefore more significant to me than objects or even cultural frameworks – although the relationship/s a person may have with the frameworks themselves is often very interesting too…

The relationships that are most important for me, and that give me the most solace at challenging times in life, are those with animals; this is in both my academic and End Of Life arenas of work. I love my spouse and my good friends (who constitute my family), but I have a particular affinity with animals of the non-human kind: dogs in particular. The love, interactions, and relationship with my own dog* spurred on my decision to offer services as an EOL Doula for both people and their pets. Dogs and humans have co-evolved for at least 100 thousand years, and the bonds between human and canine are often the net that catches me best when I am dispirited, overwhelmed, or need to process strong emotion. I am able to write about this powerful and personally profound connection, but have no idea how – or indeed if – this might translate to the lens.

I understand the laws of physics and the universe – we come from the stuff of stars, as Carl Sagan put it, and we return to the stuff of stars when we die. I am not a believer in any kind of afterlife or reincarnation, and I am comfortable in the knowledge that our life is finite, bounded by the two transitions of birth and death. The relationships I have with those close to me whom I esteem and value, including my dog, do provide me with proof of compassion, genuine love and caring, communication (Cully is a Malamute X German Shepherd, so he talks a lot and is a very good communicator), community, and place in the world. As I re-read this paragraph I am aware that my position may seem detached and dry here on the page, but I am often moved to tears by the power of the emotion and connection that these relationships bring to my life. Spending time with a mix of animals – human and non-human – also reminds me to be humble. There are far too many cultural assumptions, generally rooted in religious standpoints, that position humans ‘above’ or in a place of purported ‘superiority’ to other forms of life, all of which are immediately thrown out the window when human actions are considered from a dispassionate perspective. Humans, by and large, treat other humans appallingly. Companion animals and pets, conversely, anchor me to, and in, generosity, kindness, and love.

Our pets also tend to live much shorter life spans that that of humans – with notable examples including tortoises and some bird species, for example – and therefore relationships with companion animals keeps me honest and focused on the present and immediate future. I don’t have the luxury of time within which to experience all I would like to with Cully as he is eight years old now and will probably only live another two to four years if we are fortunate. I have to be present every day, and I constantly check my priorities in terms of Cully’s routine and changing needs as he moves into becoming a ‘senior’ dog. In turn, I am more attuned and responsive to changing needs in the humans around me, and I am (I hope) a better EOL Doula, support person, colleague, spouse, and friend thanks to all that Cully and my other companion animals throughout the years have brought into my life. In essence, I think I am a better person because of my relationships with pets and animals.

I don’t know if my contribution will be useful or needed for your project, but I want to thank you for the opportunity here on the page to express my perspective – writing this email has helped me to clarify and better understand some of my own mechanisms and ideas which were reasonably unformed up until today. That is a gift, thank you.

Have a wonderful day and whether or not I hear from you in the future I wish you every success with your non-belief project,

Annetta

*I have attached an image of my dog Cully, who I credited in the acknowledgements section of my PhD thesis as my Research Assistant (specialist in water droplets, sand, and seaweed) – and I know of other academics who refer to their companion animals as RAs on a regular basis, for example.

I sincerely mean every word of what I wrote to Aubrey, and encourage you to do some deep reflection on your own perspectives of life, and what is important for you – your insights may well help you plan for a more fulfilling End Of Life for yourself and your pet. If you are interested in learning more about having support for either your own, or your companion animal’s End Of Life, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Let’s talk.

Talking EOL Doulas and Health Sociology in Europe

I am a bit quiet on the posting at the moment as I am in Europe where I spoke at the biennial European Society for Health and Medical Sociology (ESHMS) conference.

A short holiday to recharge my energies and catch up with friends has followed the conference, but I do want to let you know how the conference went.

I presented on disruptions to the funeral industry in Australia and EOL Doulas in Australia. There is a lot of interest about Doulas in Europe, coupled with a genuine concern that poorer people are able to access our services – many colleagues were wondering about government subsidies for EOL Doulas in fact.

I plan to return to the next conference in 2020, where my research into EOL Doulas will be the focus of my

If you would like to know mire about family-led or alternative funeral options, or are Doula-Curious ease do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to answer your questions.

Let’s talk.

Slow changes to legal processes. The strange resistance to medical marijuana in Australia…

This is an excellent article for those wondering why access to medical cannabis is so horribly, needlessly difficult to attain in Australia.

We are working against an entrenched (and erroneous) myth of marijuana as a ‘gateway’ drug, the lingering damage of a War On Drugs mindset*, and a strong grip on the medical and legal pathways in Australia by pharmaceutical companies.

There is a good deal of evidence-based research available to us from several countries about the help cannabis oil and medical marijuana provides in chronic and End Of Life cases.

If you would like to find out more about your End Of Life choices please feel free to get in touch with me, I am happy to help you better understand your options.

Let’s talk

*Frequently fuelled by religous prejudice as well as widespread public mis-information that dates back to the time of Randolph Hearst wanting to spend a few pennies less for bales of cotton paper to print newspapers rather than hemp paper – free anti-cannabis advertising anyone??! This is really true; therefore Rupert Murdoch is not the only media mogul to do a great disservice to our communities and societies by spreading lies and mistruths in order to further his own business ends (see phone hacking and the Milly Dowler case, for example). But that is probably another blog post for another day…

Senior Dogs – some support group information

I have had several conversations lately, both over the phone and in person on the dog beach when I have been walking Cully, about dementia* in dogs. Cully has knee replacements, so I myself am often focused upon physical deterioration for senior dogs, and when a good friend sent through some information about support groups for cognitive deterioration I thought it would be a sensible time to share this information.

This section is a taster, obviously there are many different blogs, pages, and books/articles out there, but they are a good place to start if you are unsure of what kind of information, writing style, and support group environment you are looking for. Some of the blog links are for more general senior dog ownership, but include canine dementia and/or Alzheimer’s information. Don’t forget that I am an End Of Life Doula for companion animals as well as humans – if you would like support for exploring your pet’s End Of Life choices and options I am happy to help you.

Let’s talk.

Facebook: Dogs with Canine Dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, Dog Dementia, Senior Dog Care Club –  N.B.: at least two of these are closed groups, so you will need to be approved to access the content.

Blogs: Senior Tail WaggersSenior Dog Blog,  Dog Dementia

Book: Remember me? Loving and caring for a dog with canine cognitive dysfunction (please remember that Amazon do not pay taxes in Australia, so you may be able to order this book from your local independent bookshop)

*Remember that dogs and humans have co-evolved for a very long time, and many of the common symptoms of dementia in humans – Sundowner’s syndrome, aggressiveness, vagueness, decreased activity, etc. – may also present in our dogs.

 

Informal carers, the cared-for, and how an End Of Life Doula can benefit both.

ScottWilliamsTEDSpeaker


This TED talk  by Scott Williams (pictured above), considers the importance of unpaid carers, how much carers boost the economy (there are Australian figures in this talk), and how essential the role and work of a carer is not just to society, but for the person who is cared for. The role of carer is one that is quite familiar to many, many members of our communities – but we may be frequently isolated within that role, or not well-versed in articulating that we are carers (particularly when the role has slowly changed and  increased over time. If you are caring for someone at their End Of Life, or if you yourself are at End Of Life and would like to better understand compassionate communities and how to more effectively communicate your needs around caring, an End Of Life Doula may be just what you need.
In our multi-tasking 21st century lives, having someone to focus on the way a compassionate community of carers and supporting, loving people interact together can be the perfect stress-reduction factor. End Of Life Doulas provide a sympathetic ear, an objective and compassionate set of problem-solving skills, and in my case a background as a psychotherapist and counsellor which is useful when carers/ network members may be tired, emotional, distressed or overwhelmed.
 
End Of Life Doulas like myself often act as negotiators and communication hubs for those around someone at End Of Life, passing along information, doing research, translating medical-speak when needed, helping to arrange schedules and/or helping friends and family to better understand how to plan time and activities more effectively to fit in with busy lifestyles. 
 
I am an End Of Life Doula who can facilitate communications amongst and between carers and the cared-for, help you build a more supportive network of support, help you better understand your advance planning choices, and be a proactive member of your End Of Life community.
 
Let’s talk.

Sensible advice for holding your boundaries

It is often difficult when we are ill, stressed, overwhelmed, or any combination of these, to remember that is is perfectly fine to say ‘no’ when we need to. During End Of Life – our own, or that of someone close to us – it is particularly sensible to hold strong boundaries, and to refuse information or inappropriate actions from those around us. Even when they mean well.

A useful set of parameters is provided here – and although the article is written by an oncologist and is focused on those living with a cancer diagnosis, the parameters laid out translate well to other illnesses and diagnoses.

An End Of Life Doula can be a great asset in helping you to navigate your treatment choices and options, construct the compassionate community that will serve you best in your own personal circumstances, and to help you hold the boundaries in place when that help is needed or requested by you.

Let’s talk.

The New Year is an ideal time to revise your End Of Life advance planning documents!

Changes to legal status – like marriage, which may have some interesting and complex nuances when governments change legislation as we’ve recently seen here in Australia – are a signal for us as individuals (and as couples, congratulations!) to review our advance planning paperwork.

Here in NSW you need a will, a power of attorney, and enduring guardianship – this troika of documents will help your wishes be recognised as valid and binding, and to smooth the path of your End Of Life in both expected, and unexpected circumstances.

If in doubt, as this report points out there may currently be for same-sex couples who married outside Australia, it is a good idea to update and double-check your paperwork, and take the opportunity to review your End Of Life documentation.

I advocate for reviewing your choices and options annually, it is always sensible to ensure your planned choices, legacy, and wishes reflect your current life and self. I specialise in advance planning, and am available to help you explore your options and choices. Remember to include your pets in your planning!

Let’s talk.

CullySunWater